Author Archives: Michael Sommer

Summer Sunset on the Greenhouses

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Summertime Seedlings

We have cleared out our winter crops and we are into our mid summer plantings of tender greens and herbs.

Crops that we grow in the winter and spring like kale, collards and broccoli taste more bitter and sulfurous in the summer heat because they are defending against insects and disease and also using those compounds to deal with the stresses of heat and sunlight. Instead of trying to get a harvest from summer-stressed crops, we plant them in late summer so the crops can get close to mature by the time it starts freezing. This timing is crucial to having fresh greens to harvest in Idaho from November to March.

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In the summer, we plant many successions of  dill, cilantro, mustards, cress, arugula and lettuces to produce a consistent fresh supply to our customers. This means 2 to 3 plantings per month from May to September. The size of the bed planted varies with the hours of sunlight in the day. The longer the day the smaller and more frequently we plant beds of a certain crop.

We have around four different beds of each variety of herb and lettuce in any given week. One bed has fresh seedlings, one bed is being harvested, one bed is starting to flower and finished with harvesting and one bed is being turned over and prepared for planting again -a bed for each stage of life.

If we aren’t planting a certain crop one week, we will be planting it within the next two weeks.

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Here’s the succession of a bed, for example:

We start with an overgrown bed of lettuce for example. It is just starting to flower, there are many weeds growing, the bed is knee high with green leafed plants, and it all gets chopped up and tilled into the soil to feed the microbes.

After tilling we do a rough leveling of the soil and then water it for a few days to germinate weeds and digest all the plant matter. When the weeds have sprouted, we hoop hoe the bed to incorporate the new weed seedlings then we level it again, mark the lines and plant the seeds. The bed is wet enough to germinate after 3 days of watering (both intentional seeds and weeds). Then the race to harvest begins.

We are doing lots of seeding, watching seedlings, pulling weeds and harvesting greens all summer long. Summertime blue skies and hot days here in the hills around the Treasure Valley sure make these greenhouse grow greens and herbs fast!

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Coming soon: Leafy Greens!

Last week I was driving truck for Idaho’s Bounty Co-op picking up lots of potatoes,  onions, squash and meat from farms around the Magic Valley like M&M Heath Farms, Kings Crown Organics and bringing it to the Treasure Valley to sell. Purple Sage Farms produce is also distributed by this online co-op and available for anyone to buy at www.idahosbounty.org.

This week on our farm we are harvesting lots of sweet spinach that survived a bitter cold winter.  The cold wind is blowing outside but on a sunny day in the greenhouse hoeing and harvesting make it feel like spring already.

This spinach was planted in Sept. 2012. Now, in Feb., it is really starting to produce!

This spinach was planted in Sept. 2012. Now, in Feb., it is really starting to produce.

For the past couple years we have been changing a lot of plastic on our hoop-houses. That’s because a lot of them were put on around the same time 6 to 8 years ago and have now reached the end of their lifespan. When the wind gusts get up to 45 mph you can barely hear another person talking inside one of the houses because the the frame flexes and the plastic whips in the wind. Then it tears open. The house that lost plastic last weekend was the oldest out of the 12 houses and I had been expecting it to go in a storm since last summer. Hopefully we won’t have plastic trouble for a few more years after we repair this one.

In mid Feb. a windy night tore the plastic off the house full of curly kale that lived through the winter.

In mid Feb. a windy night tore the plastic off the house full of curly kale that lived through the winter.

We planted our first round of seeds for mustard greens and lettuce in the hoop-houses this past week.  These crops germinate in 3 to 5 days and begin senescence, start to flower and mature, within 4 to 6 weeks depending on the season. If we get a lot of sun in the next few weeks I think we will have our first harvest in mid-March.

These seeds were planted 3 days ago and after 3 sunny days they are eager to get the season started.

These seeds were planted 3 sunny days ago, they are eager to get the season started.

Dill, Cilantro, Pea shoots, lettuce mix, watercress, are all planted in the hoop-houses now but grow a little slower than the mustard greens. All winter I have been missing our wide variety of greens like tender tatsoi, mizuna or miner’s lettuce. Come March and April, we will get those greens back on our plates. I can’t wait!

Michael Sommer

Growing Out of Winter

The ground has thawed inside the greenhouses and our planting is beginning. We have filled up three greenhouses with cruciferous vegetable transplants like broccoli and lacinato kale. In the greenhouses, many crops survived one of the coldest winters ever in the Treasure Valley and many did not. We are clearing the struggling beds and preparing them for our earliest plantings of spring greens.

This is a bed of arugula that went through the winter in the greenhouse under a blanket

This is a bed of arugula that went through the winter in the greenhouse under a blanket

Chervil is a very hardy cold season herb and survived the winter in a greenhouse under a blanket.

Chervil is a very hardy cold season herb and survived the winter in a greenhouse under a blanket.

Starting seeds in the germination room including peas, endive, butterhead lettuce, chard.

Starting seeds in the germination room in January.

Under the lights in the germination room another round of cold weather crops is beginning. Chard, peas, endive and butterhead lettuce have sprouted and they are building the first set of true leaves.  To put all these plants in their own plug trays is a tedious job but essential for fast growth and survival in the cold season. I cringe to have to anticipate weeds this early in the season but I have learned to always be thinking of ways we can give our crops an advantage to out-grow them. I still hate weeding as much as I did when I was ten; I like to let the plants take care of it themselves.

This past weekend we attended the Grower’s Own Conference at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. It was put on  by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) and some other sponsors with a lot of hard work from Jennifer Miller and Beth Rasgorshek. The guest speaker was Laura Masterson of 47th Avenue Farm outside of Portland, OR.

 

Sitting together,  Laura Masterson, Beth Rasgorshek, Jennifer Miller

Left to right: Laura Masterson, Beth Rasgorshek, Jennifer Miller

The two-day conference facilitated conversations on all sorts of topics related to farming like how to produce things on the farm to sell in the winter season, farm and food safety, and how to figure your farms expenses and produce prices. There were lots of great conversations and I always get a morale boost from the winter lull after I see a group of the food community in Idaho that I live with.

Michael Sommer